Bands blossom at eclectic SXSW

Musicians use festival for reunions, tour launches

Australia’s Hoodoo Gurus fit into two of the three lists in the spotlight at this year’s South by Southwest Music Festival: Reunited legends and international acts.

The third list is the one that never seems to change — independent bands looking to move another step up the ladder, whether it be through distribution, management or a label deal — at the 21st edition of the Austin, Texas, fest that starts Wednesday.

The Hoodoo Gurus, which broke up in the 1990s and reunited two years ago but haven’t play the U.S. in 13 years, are joined on the formerly MIA list by country mates the Saints, the Stooges, Mary Weiss of the Shangri-las, the leaders of the Mekons, artists who recorded for the Stax label in the 1960s, Thomas Dolby and 80-year-old Charlie Louvin. All are using the fest as a launching pad for recording projects and accompanying tours.

“We regret that our final tours didn’t go to the States and this is our redressing of that oversight,” says Gurus singer-songwriter-guitarist Dave Faulkner. “We’re not sure what people want to hear because we have a lot of ground to make up. There are two albums we’ve never played live in the U.S. (Everything we’ve recorded) can make it into our set list, but we’d like to play what people want to hear.”

That list would certainly include “I Want You Back,” the catchy power-pop single that established their international profile in 1983 and has since been elevated to legendary status and celebrated in a number of multi-artist retrospective collections.

“There’s no better place in the world for a band with such a great live reputation and history to reintroduce themselves than at SXSW,” says manager Michael McMartin.

High-profile gigs

Similarly, fans will want to hear classics from the Stooges in addition to their first album in 33 years, “The Weirdness,” which Virgin released March 6. Oz punk legend the Saints have material slated for a Stateside release in May — Wildflower Records released it in the U.K. last year — to join “(I’m) Stranded”; Weiss’ first album since the 1960s, “Dangerous Game” (Norton Records), also received a March 6 release. Dolby is doing his first solo shows in a decade while Jon Langford and Sally Timms will revisit the music they created together as the Mekons. Hugh Cornwell, with a live album released in England and his memoirs on the way, plays songs from his days fronting the Stranglers, a compilation of which was released in late January on the Primo imprint.

Stax Records, the catalogue of which is now owned by Concord Records, is joining the city of Memphis’ “50 Years of Soul” celebration with a load of reissues, shows and a PBS doc. Stax legends Booker T & the MGs, William Bell, Eddie Floyd and Isaac Hayes will perform in Texas to celebrate the Tuesday release of “Stax 50,” a 50-song, two-CD box set. (Concord has four new signings to the relaunched label as well.)

Amy Winehouse, Paolo Nutini, the Fratellis and the Good, the Bad and the Queen are among the heavily hyped participating in showcases at the city’s 57 official venues. Also performing will be Bloc Party, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Razorlight, the Bravery, Rickie Lee Jones, Badly Drawn Boy, Robyn Hitchcock, Meat Puppets, Buzzcocks and new bands fronted by Tom Morello, Perry Farrell and Les Claypool.

International invasion

A quarter of the bands playing the fest are from outside the U.S., with 145 acts are coming in from the U.K. and 108 heading south from Canada. Australia is repped by 42 bands; Rockfour is flying in from Tel Aviv, Israel, and David Fonseca from Portugal. Two bands — the Afterhours and the Hormonauts — will be waving the flag for Italy and the Italia Wave Love Festival, being held in Florence July 17-22.

Denmark is sending over two bands with considerable buzz: Under Byen and Slaraffenland. Paper Bag Records has released Under Byen’s “Samme Stof Som Stof,” which has drawn numerous critical comparisons to Sigur Ros, Massive Attack and Bjork; the SXSW show is part of the band’s three-week North America tour.

Slaraffenland’s U.S. debut, “Private Cinema,” will be released by the Hometapes label. Quintet uses brass, woodwind and stringed instruments to perform music influenced by Sonic Youth and classic free jazz. As non-commercial as that may sound, act has appeared on Tv2, the country’s largest television network.

Repped by a single band will be South Africa (Harris Tweed and the Dirty Skirts) and South Korea (YP and the Seoul Electric Band).

On Friday, Willie Nelson will announce the creation of Pedernales Records, an indie label that will be headquartered in Austin. Nelson will be announcing the executive team and the imprint’s initial signings.

Pete Townshend delivers the keynote address Wednesday evening; other speakers include Emmylou Harris, Gilberto Gill, David Byrne and legendary Brit label owner Joe Boyd. Panels will discuss the usual subjects affecting musicians, labels, touring and the Internet, plus cover the 40th anniversary of the Monterrey Pop Festival and the life of Nick Drake.

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